Midhurst residents and business owners are expressing their concern over the impact of ongoing road closures caused by the need to secure the facade of the historic Angel Hotel. While acknowledging the historical significance of the building, which is one of approximately 150 listed properties in the area, locals argue that the South Downs National Park’s focus on preserving the building’s facade is coming at the cost of the town’s economy.
In recent weeks, Midhurst’s shops, cafes, and restaurants have experienced a significant drop in earnings, with some reporting losses of up to 80%. The COVID-19 pandemic has already put many businesses under severe financial strain, and the closure of a major road in the town has only exacerbated the problem. According to local business owners, many of whom are independent, the situation has become a crisis, and the town’s spirit is in danger of being lost.
The situation has also had a significant impact on the elderly and disabled population on the south side of town, who are struggling to access the GP’s surgery on the north side of town due to the closure of the road. The alternative route takes over 40 minutes and is difficult to navigate due to single lanes with few places to pull over.
A recent demonstration saw hundreds of residents and traders take to the high street to express their frustration at the situation.
With the polo season set to begin soon, there are concerns over how horseboxes will be able to navigate the town’s roads, further exacerbating the situation.
Despite these concerns, Trevor Beattie, the CEO of the South Downs National Park, has stated that the facade of the Angel Hotel must remain intact. While the building is listed, the interior, which is over 400 years old, has been largely destroyed, and the facade is only Victorian.
Residents and business owners are now calling for a sense of proportion in the response to the crisis. While acknowledging the historical significance of the building, they are questioning whether preserving the facade is worth the serious damage being done to the town’s economy and the inconvenience to those living in and around Midhurst. With no contractor yet selected to undertake the necessary work on the building, locals are now fearing that the road closure could last not just weeks, but potentially months.
Chichester District Council have offered financial help, but one business owner said that while it was welcome, it amounted to £1,800 per business, which when some are losing up to £1,000 per week, is just a “drop in the ocean”.
In the meantime, traders want to let it be known that Midhurst is open for business, despite appearances to the contrary. Both car parks, one at each end of the town, are open, and it is possible to navigate the high street on foot, so businesses re hoping that people will continue to visit and not take their trade to neighbouring centres. “It’s life or death for us” said one shop owner “What is the point of spending many thousands of taxpayers’ money saving the front of one building if it means that none of the other shops remain open?”.
All pictures (c) Geoff Allnut